Good Lighting is Like Eating Cheesecake

Most of us take the lighting in our sewing area for granted.  I mean flick a switch and we have illumination.  What’s there to really think about?  We need light. Flick.  We have light.  Honestly what’s the big deal?

Well lighting is a big deal.  The correct lighting is a bit like having all the cheesecake you want with no calories to deal with the next day – or that horrible, bloated feeling.  Incorrect lighting is kind of like eating all the cheesecake and having to deal with all the calories and that horrible, bloated feeling.  The first part of this blog will explain lighting just a bit and the second part will show you some areas where you may want to change the lighting in your quilt room.

Humphrey Davy — the man who really invented the incandescent light bulb

We tend to laud Thomas Alva Edison for the invention of the light bulb.  Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he didn’t invent it.  The incandescent light bulb was invented by an Englishman – Humphrey Davy.  What Edison did was improve this light bulb and then worked to make electricity affordable for everybody.   Over the years other scientists and engineers picked up Edison’s light bulb and continued to change and improve it.  Just shopping for light bulbs is overwhelming now.  An entire aisle at your local hardware store has hundreds of choices and wattages.  A search for light bulbs on Amazon yields over seven webpages of choices.  However, for us quilters, we’re dealing with more than wattages and colors of light.  We work with fabric and it’s important for us to see its hues, tints, and shades in their purest form.  What kind of lighting gives us the best odds of making sure we actually can do this?


Yup.  Sunshine.  This is why you may see quilters carry the fabric bolts of their choice to a window for their final audition.  I wrote another blog ( about that a while back.  So it’s important we  get lighting which mimics daylight in our studios.  Let’s take a short (but deep dive) on lighting before we talk about our studios (this is one of those rare times when my physics background and quilting mesh…)

Lighting is measured in color temperature (sometimes referred to as Kelvin) and CRI (Color Rendering Index).  It’s the CRI we’re most concerned about in our sewing area.  Lighting with poor CRI can make true purples appear red or true creams seem brown-ish tan.  CRI is rated on a scale from 0% to 100% to reference the accuracy of a light source (such as the light bulb in your lamp) in comparison to natural daylight – which is a true color hue.  The higher the CRI rating, the closer it is to true, natural daylight. 

This is not to say the Kelvin aspect of lighting isn’t important, too.  Kelvin is a unit of measurement used to describe the color temperature of a light source.  You use this all the time when purchasing light bulbs.  Soft White is 2700K – 3000K; Bright White is 3500K – 4100K; and Daylight is 5000k – 6500K.  For the more intimate areas of our homes, we may choose a soft white.  Study areas may require a bright white.  We probably would choose a daylight bulb for dressing and make up/hair areas.  For our quilting studio – really any type of art studio – we want bulbs which are between the 5000K and 6500K range with a high CRI rating (at least 90 – 95).  This is the best lighting you can have for a sewing area or fabric shop (which sadly, most fabric shops rely on the florescent-type lighting provided by their landlords). 

Years ago, before the development of LED lights, this type of lighting was expensive.  The fact LEDs are readily available, last longer, and are better than incandescent bulbs have pushed the prices down.  Some even come with dimming capabilities, which is super.  Personal Zone of Truth:  The best prices I have found – at least in my area of the country – for these light bulbs are on Amazon. 

I realize there may be some dissention from a few folks about now.  You may not buy all this illuminating information I’m shedding.  Let me throw this out.  How many of us use Ott lights?  Don’t you just love them?  Guess who has had this lighting concept nailed down for years?  That’s right.  Ott.  So this lighting construct has got to be valid – Ott has sold hundreds of thousands of lights and has hundreds of thousands of satisfied customers.

Now that I’ve explained what makes a good light bulb, where should these be placed in your quilting area? 

Overhead Lighting

Most of us inherit quilting spaces which already have established overhead lighting.  In my wildest dreams I win the lottery and can splurge on a quilting space I design.  Besides having electrical outlets in the floor, lots of shelves and built in drawers, custom pressing and cutting areas, I would have the overhead combination of 5000K – 6500K and 95 CRI either in LED tube lighting or recessed or flush mount lights.  However, I have not won the lottery and must work with what I have – which is two overhead light figures with two daylight bulbs in each.  One is directly over my primary sewing area and the other is over my long arm.  These are augmented by two east-facing windows and two sliding glass doors which lead out onto a deck. 

I imagine a lot of you are in a similar situation.  You’re working with the overhead lighting (also called “fill light”) which came with the room you quilt in.  There may not be a great deal you can do about it but do use LED Daylight Bulbs with the highest CRI index available.  If your room has windows, open the shades and let the sunshine in.  These two steps will allow you to maximize your fill light.  And if you haven’t used the Daylight LED Bulbs, you may be surprised at the difference they make. 

Task Lights

Task lights are those additional lights we use which are focused on specific areas of our quilting space.  Even if somehow you’re fortunate enough to snag custom overhead lighting, task lights are still important.  These reduce eye strain, headaches, and backaches.  Exactly where you place these lights and how many you have can be a personal decision, depending on how good the fill lighting is.  I will hit the most common areas of a quilt studio – which by coincidence are the exact places I have my task lights. 

Your Sewing Machine – Most sewing machines come with at least one light built into the mechanism.  The newer sewing machines have LED daylight lighting.  Older versions don’t.  Those use some type of incandescent bulb which will yellow with age and generally becomes very hot with extended sewing times.  The good news is there are lots of supplemental LED daylight lighting for sewing machines.  There are LED daylight strip lights which attach under the top of the machine head.  I have not used any of these, but I have quilting buddies who have, and I can tell you these have been met with varying degrees of success.  I suggest reading the reviews before purchasing any of these supplemental lights. 

Many sewing machine manufacturers have developed LED replacement bulbs for their older machine models.  They look similar to the old bulbs, but they’re LED daylight bulbs.  These are even available now for Singer Featherweights. 

Of course, there are always the smaller Ott lights which can be used beside your machine.  I used one for years behind my old Memory Craft 6000, until I updated to Big Red years ago. 

Your Cutting Area – Accurate cutting is one of the first steps which guarantees a successful quilt journey.  Rotary mats are marked well, but time and use cause these to fade a bit.  A daylight LED light on or beside your cutting area is a big help.  Personally, I like the kind I can adjust, so I have this light

Clamped to my cutting table.  I can move the head directly over the fabric if I need to fussy cut or move it to the side or up and down if it causes too much of a shadow on my rulers.  I can also dim it or brighten the light if needed.

Supplemental Lighting Over Your Primary Sewing Area – Even if your sewing machine has the best LED Daylight bulb available, realize that light is concentrated primarily over your harp and needle area.  Additional lighting (especially if you’re quilting) is very helpful and can reduce eye strain.  I use this light

This lamp has LED Daylight bulbs and clamps onto the front of my sewing table.  This allows the light to “puddle” exactly in the area I’m working on.  This is valuable not only if I’m quilting, but also if I am working with dark colors.  I can dim or brighten this light as needed.  I do like that it’s longer than my sewing machine, which means the light “puddle” covers the entire area that I’m working with. 

Your Pressing Area – This one may catch you by surprise, as lighting the pressing area may not have crossed your mind.  However, the “Holy Trinity” of accuracy is cutting, consistent seam allowances, and pressing.  It’s important you’re able to really see what you’re pressing.  I have a large pressing area (ironing board) near my cutting table, so I can swing the light I use on the table over to the ironing board.  However, I also have a smaller pressing area near my sewing machine, which I use when I’m piecing and machine appliqueing.  I have this little Ott light

That I clamp onto this pressing area.  It has a goose neck, so it’s adjustable and a clothespin clamp, which means it’s super-easy to move.  When I was using Big Red, I often clamped this machine to the top of her for additional light.  If you applique via freezer paper or Apliquick, this light is great to have in your pressing/gluing area.  You can really see what you’re doing. 

Those are the task lights recommended for a sewing area.  Ideally, between your fill lights and the task lights, your studio is evenly lit with concentrated illumination in important areas. 

I would also add these recommendations.

  1.  If you sew anywhere other than your studio, make sure you have supplemental lighting.  Specifically, if you’re like a lot of us and hand sew while you’re watching television in another area of the house, make sure you have some additional lighting other than the overhead fill light.  I have an Ott light with a magnifier my DH gave me for Christmas.   It works wonderfully.
  2. If you take your sewing with you when you travel, or you like sewing bees, or you attend workshops, travel lights are great to have.  Outside your studio, you can’t guarantee how good (or bad) the lighting may be.  Having a light you can count on is priceless.  A few years ago I received this Ott light for Christmas

It’s super convenient because it has compartments in the base you can store needles, beeswax, scissors, and small fabric pieces in.   

I also have this light, which is a recent purchase. 

This light has LED Daylight bulbs and is chargeable – once charged it lasts for several hours before needing a re-charge.  It folds flat and it, its electrical plug head, and charging cord fit neatly in its storage case.  It is surprisingly heavy, so be careful if you pitch it into your sewing bag and then pick the bag up. 

There are literally hundreds of options for portable lighting.  Read the reviews carefully and ask your quilting buddies what they use, which ones are their favorites, and how much they cost.  Ott lights are the most expensive, but they have always received stellar reviews, have excellent customer service, and last forever.  However, with the flood of good LEDs hitting the market (I have seen decent LED portables at dollar stores), they may have to lower their costs.  Of course, Otts are available at Joanne’s, and you may opt to wait for a good coupon to offset the price.  Minimally, you may want to replace your current light bulbs with Daylights.

I hope this blog has “illuminated” the importance of good lighting in your quilting space.  Until we win the lottery so we can design our own custom quilt studio, it’s helpful to know how to best use what we have. 

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference (even in lighting!)

Love and Stitches,


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